Fractured, but not broken pipeline
About a week ago, a friend of mine on the Hershey Bears Fan Club page, brought up an article for the Athletic that Washington has the 30th worst Farm system in the NHL. That would be so bad, if there weren’t 31 teams in the league, I wasn’t surprised by it, hell we were 28th a year ago, the team below me did surprise because I was expected my team, Pittsburgh to be there, I was wrong, it was Calgary.
That aside, Bears fans will point and laugh while yelling at Washington for “Not Helping Hershey” or “Call up _____, not ______” These same fans tend to forget that the AHL is a developmental league and the days of Uncle Doug are gone.
Let’s turn back the clock to the mid-2000s when the pipeline was stronger, names like Matthew P, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson were getting time in Hershey with a legit shot at DC time. Fan favorites like Jay Beagle, Eric Fehr were diamonds in the rough and Holtby was a newbie/rookie. Fans packed Giant Center almost every home game to see a dominant Bears team steamroll through the AHL or pull a deep Calder Cup run out of there butts.
What most fans don’t know, is that a pact was made with Washington, the deal was: Washington will draft Defense-men and Goalies, while Hershey and Doug would sign high-end Forward talent with the occasional forwards. Washington had Backstrom, Ovi to counter Sid and Geno, Varly was in net to take on MAF and Washington knew they had a good crop in Hershey to help them win a Cup
But they didn’t, Pittsburgh kicked them in the nuts 6-2 in a Game 7 in DC, the remaining talent got sent down to Hershey to complete one the greatest Calder Cup runs. Washington didn’t mind though, Ovi and Backy were young and the pipeline was flowing, it wasn’t a matter of if but when they won the Cup.
Except they didn’t:
2010: Habs Upset
2011: Swept by Tampa
2012: Collapse In NYC
2013: Rangers Again
2014: Missed Playoffs
In 2013 Washington saw something happen in Pittsburgh when the Pens signed Iginla, Brandon Morrow, and Douglas Murray to do an “All In” Run at the Stanley Cup. Those Vets surrounding Crosby and Malkin, an OT Road Win in Long Island and a dismantling of the Ottawa Senators, saw Pittsburgh go up against a young reloading Bruins team….and were swept right out of the ECF. (I should know, I watched it and it still hurts)
Anyway, Washington saw this and turned into Ralph Kramton of the Honeymoons getting one of his “Get Rich Quick” schemes, Washington was going sign high-end Vet talent to supplement Ovi and Backy and bring them the Stanley Cup he craved. Justin Williams was signed to a 2-year deal and TJ Oshie was snatched from St Louis, along with a decent 2014 draft class, this would be the core of Stanley Cup run and it did, and we will get there
The AHL was starting to change as well, in becoming a true developmental league, Veteran player limits were established, teams were going to be moved closer to NHL parent-clubs to cost down on travel expenses. Washington brass was going to get on board with this move, so changes in Hershey were going to be made
The first domino to fall was Doug Yingst retiring or if you believing he was shoved out mafia-style, Yingst retirement sent shock waves through GC as he made the announcement, just before the opening face-off. The move fueled rumors of a Washington takeover or worse, an affiliation change to Pittsburgh, since the AHL at the time was changed affiliation like underwear, the possibility was there, though unlikely.
Washington hired Brian Helmer as GM of Hershey. Former Defense of those Calder Cup teams, Helmer’s signed was meet with question marks and raised eyebrows. Some at GC didn’t see this as hiring, but as the Capitals sticking there nose in Hershey’s business where it didn’t belong.
During this time, Washington neglected Hershey, sure names like Beagle, Alzner, Carlson Schmidt, Gailev and Tom Wilson (Before his Heel Turn) were bred in Chocolate town but Caps fan didn’t care, their eyes were on the Holy Grail. Depth Signings of Lars Eller, Daniel Winnik, Taylor Chorney all but assured that injuries aside, no one from Hershey would get time in DC.
This “All in” push shoved Hershey aside for the Stanley Cup and since this squad was loaded at every position, surely a Stanley Cup was there for the asking.
Nope, Matt Cullen Game 6 in Overtime and Crosby got his 2nd Rings and a Finals MVP (RIGGED!)
Like a pissed off braids-maid, Washington wasn’t going to take Pittsburgh getting another ring, lying down, sensing they were one player away from a Cup, they traded a Forward Prospect named Zach Sanford for Kevin Shattenkirk from St Louis and friend of TJ Oshie.
These moves were starting to show in Hershey as Washington was more concerned about winning a Cup- then their farm system. However a bone was thrown to Hershey with the return of Phoenix Copley, it was enough to quiet the rumblings in Hershey for now.
2017, yielded another stellar season with high hopes in DC for a deep playoff run, everyone was on board in for a rematch with Pittsburgh. Being down 3-0 in the series the Caps fought back to even the series with Game in Washington and all the momentum on there side, not even the Capitals could screw this up!
And another Stanley Cup went to the Black and Gold, back to back Cups for the Pens in a salary cap era, that made it almost impossible to do, just ask Chicago and Boston or Tampa.
Pittsburgh success didn’t come at the expense of there farm club, it came thanks to there farm club in WBS, we might laugh at WBS failures in the CCP, but you can’t argue the results that lead to 2 Cups:
Jake Guentzel, Sheary, Rust, Murray, Sprong, Dumoulin, Kunchel(Yes, its spelled wrong) Rowney, Dominik Simon, Ruhwedel, Josh Archibald, Scott Wilson.
All of them played in the playoffs for Pittsburgh and came from Wilkes Barre/ Scranton, which is organizational depth and drafting well, not trading draft picks for expiring contracts.
Oh that, Sanford guy you traded away, won a Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019.
In 2018, Hershey suffered one of its worst seasons, too much vet talent, taking up roster spots for younger prospects, the AHL getting faster, while we got older and slower. The fans needed a scapegoat for this, and instead of looking at the traded draft picks, an aging core, vets no longer caring (I’m looking at you Chris Bourque,) bloated roster of Washington and its practices over the past few seasons.
They unfairly blamed the Coach Mann and Helmer, Helmer was seen as a stooge of DC, nothing more then a “Yes Boss!” to his higher-ups, fans heckled and booed Helmer at games during announcements, fans were openly calling for Troy’s Mann firing in March, when he got more out of this squad then what should have.
Alas, when you are the Yankees of the AHL, nothing short of a Calder Cup will do, Mann’s contract wasn’t renewed just before Game 2 of the 2018 ECSF VS Pittsburgh. which Washington lost Game 1 in typical fashion. Then something happened that no one excepted, they beat Pittsburgh in 6 games, in OT in Pittsburgh, then Beat Tampa in 7 games after being down 3-2 in the series, then on June 7th, 2018 (or close to that) the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup.
Hershey was happy for them to a certain extent, we finally saw our Bears skate with the Stanley Cup: Copley, Bowey, Vrana, Orlov, Wilson, Nathan Walker, Ness, Grubie, Travis Boyd. It was like watching our kids graduate and it seems like the pipeline was being rebuilt after neglect.
Well, in 2019 season saw Capitals having to rely on Hershey more, because of salary cap issues, Madison Bowey was traded away for Nick Jansen and draft picks and DSP was sent down to Hershey because of of……issues. This also saw a new influx of talent come in, Gersich, Pinho, Pilon, our Lord and S Illya Samsonov, Axel-Johnson, along with Names such as Riley Barber and Liam O Brian.
DSP was sent down to Hershey to get ready for a playoff push, he was welcomed to Hershey with a mixed reception, though a hat trick in Hartford silenced the crowds. It wasn’t until Oshie’s injury when Dsp went back up to Dc to thunderous applause, while the fan base didn’t give 2 craps where he had been for the past 5 months.
The end of the 2019 season saw Washington blow another 3-2 series lead to a young and hungry Carolina Hurricanes team, a team with a deep farm system. While Hershey did move on to face the Charlotte Checkers, no help from Washington was coming, it seemed no one wanted to.
Hershey was destroyed in 4 games by the farm club of the same team that eliminated there parent club, the Charlotte Checkers, the proud affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The farm clubs have slowly begun to refill, however, draft picks are spent like candy, call ups and signing high-end talent trump the need to call up your younger talent, because well we want to win back to back like Pittsburgh, which they did not, Carolina made sure of that.
With me becoming a blogger for MSB and talking to friends in Hershey, I understand more how call-ups and other factors work because we want to see Hershey succeed, hell its all we have known for the past 78 years. This affiliation has had its up and downs, but show an AHL/NHL that hasn’t and it will be the 1st time, the fact that Washington and Hershey have stayed together as long as they do is pretty remarkable in this day and age, even if the kids, want a new daddy.
That’s my opinion…..